King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
Stories of Strand-Aldwych

The trial

Sketch of Bishop’s residence, Carlo Ferrier and Bishop, Williams, and May.[1]Sketch of Bishop’s residence, Carlo Ferrier and Bishop, Williams, and May.[1]

The day of the court case brought a rush of emotions and heightened tension to London as captured in this description:

‘On Friday the mob assembled at Bow-street with augmented force it having got abroad that the Burkers were to be conveyed to Newgate. When the van arrived, the driver could hardly force his way to the office door and as the Burkers came out, Bishop was violently struck upon his left side but his assailant did not escape the vigilance of the officer … After this the van proceeded to the strand followed by an immense mob yelling and hooting. In order to diver their pursuit the driver went sharply down Chancery-Lane, but an accidental stoppage gave time for the populace to overtake him when they began to pelt the officers who guarded calling on them to turn out the Burkers and at the same time be spattering the van with mud mixed with stones. Groans and hooting met the van at every turn, Shouts of ‘Burkers’ ‘Body-snatchers!’’[2]

The indictment for Bishop, Williams and May was:

‘…charged that they John Bishop, Thomas Williams and James May being malicious and evil disposed persons and not having the fear of God before their eyes but being under the instigation of the devil did on the 4th November last in and upon the body of Charles Ferrari otherwise called Carlo Ferrari in the parish of St Matthews Bethnal Green feloniously and maliciously and of malice aforethought commit an assault and that they with a certain wooden staff of no value there the said Charles Ferrari otherwise Carlo Ferrari did strike and beat on the back of the neck and they did by such striking and beating feloniously, wilfully and maliciously give to the said Carlo Ferrari divers wounds and contusions of which wounds and contusions the said Carlo Ferrari then and there did die.’[3]

The reaction of the guilty verdict resulted in a euphoric reaction from the assembled crowd outside the courthouse:

‘The verdict was received in court with becoming silence but in a moment, it was conveyed to the immense multitude assembled outside who evinced their satisfaction at the result by loud and continued cheering and clapping of hands. To such an extent was this popular feeling carried that the windows of the court were obliged to be closed in order that the voice of the recorder might be heard in passing sentence.’

They were to be hanged on Monday morning and their bodies to be delivered for dissection and anatomisation.

Williams remarked ‘We are all murdered men’ as they were led away.[4] Bishop admitted that he had furnished between 500 and 1,000 subjects for dissection to hospital, but nearer to the latter number.[5]


[1] The Italian Boy: Early journalism by Charles Dickens, [Accessed July 2022].

[2] Weekly Times London, 27 November 1831

[3] Globe, 02 December 1831

[4] Saint James’s Chronicle, 03 December 1831

[5] Derby Mercury, 07 December 1831

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